THE GUARDIAN (Book #0.4)
“If there ever was a race-traitor job, this was definitely it.”
Revik, infamous seer and ex-lieutenant of the Rooks’ dark army, arrives in London with a new job, a new home, and new people watching him.
Some want to control him, some want to bed him, and some want to kill him for a past he can’t seem to escape. None of that exactly helps him do his shadow job, his real job, as guardian to the holy Seer known as “The Bridge.”
As for the Bridge herself, she has no idea who she is, or even that she’s Seer. Known by her human friends and family simply as “Allie,” she definitely has no idea of the powerful forces arrayed against her, or those trying desperately to protect her.
Instead, she grapples with her new relationship with Jaden, a sexy musician drawn to her on first sight. No one in Allie’s life likes Jaden very much. Not her brother, not her mother, not her best friend, Cass… and certainly not Revik himself.
It isn’t long before Revik begins to hate Jaden, even before he’s admitted to himself why.
That’s true well before Jaden gives Revik a really good reason.
This story was previously published as part of the Allie’s War series, and titled “LONDON” – this version has been heavily revised and increased in length.
From USA TODAY and WALL STREET JOURNAL bestselling author, a psychic warfare adventure set in a gritty alternate version of Earth. Contains strong romantic elements. Apocalyptic SciFi. Psychic Romance.
NOW on KINDLE UNLIMITED!
CHAPTER 1: HALLOWEEN
“That guy’s still staring at you,” Cass said, leaning close to my ear.
She continued talking in an intensely not-stealthy way.
I guess it wasn’t totally her fault.
You pretty much had to talk loud in there, to be heard over the music. Still, I was pretty sure she had a good buzz going from everything I’d seen her consume that night already, including the shots I’d seen her down as we walked in the door of the house party.
“He’s been staring,” she added, even louder. “At you. Only at you, Al. For like... an hour!”
Okay, she’d left buzzed territory.
She was pretty drunk.
Drunk enough, she clearly forgot we’d barely been here, meaning at this particular party, for an hour, so I highly doubted the black-haired guy Cass was nudging me to gawk at had been staring at me anywhere close to that.
Drunk enough, she also clearly forgot we were both in costume, and this guy probably had no idea what I even looked like.
Drunk enough that, between her talk-shouting in my ear and motioning towards the guy with her beer-clutching hand––all while grinning at him like a loon––my best friend, Cassie, was about as subtle as if she’d been trying to speak to the guy in semaphore, using neon-colored flags and singing the The Star-Spangled Banner at the top of her lungs.
Drunk enough, in other words, she managed to embarrass the hell out of me.
Then again, Cass started her drinking well before we left the house.
Her dickhead boyfriend, Jack––her on-again, off-again boyfriend of more years than I could count––picked another big fight with her earlier that day.
Which I guess meant they were probably off-again at the moment.
I hadn’t been able to get much that was coherent from Cass on the subject. She knew I didn’t like Jack, so she tended to keep her comments on him short and cryptic, since both she and I knew she would probably be back together with him in a few days.
Also, yeah, by the time I got to her after her and Jack’s fight, she’d already been drinking for at least an hour.
Cass was my roommate at the moment.
That happened the way a lot of things happened with my best friend, Cassandra Jainkul. Meaning, I told her she could crash with me at my crappy apartment on Fillmore Street for a while if she needed to. I said she could stay as long as she needed, even for a few months, if it took that long, while she got her shit together and figured out what came next for her.
That was two years ago.
My brother, Jon, warned me back at the beginning that Cass would never leave, barring some unforeseen Act of God.
Since neither of us could think of what that might be, apart from her winning the monthly state raffle or one of the city prizes, I’d pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably be living with her forever. Knowing both of our track records with me, we’d likely end up old cat ladies together in that same rented house near Alamo Square.
Back in those initial discussions about housing arrangements, Jon also warned me that my drama quotient would go way up if Cass moved into my place, even apart from the drinking and Jack and her lack of money and whatever else.
Knowing Jon, he was probably worried about my grades, since I’d just gone back to art school back then, and Cass was freewheeling it without that whole higher education nonsense.
And yeah, I knew Jon was right, but what are you gonna do?
She was Cass. She was my best friend.
And while Jon was right about the drama, she was also a lot of fun. We could drink wine and paint and laugh about stupid shit on the feeds and she’d even drag me out of my cave every now and then, make me do the social thing.
Even I knew that was good for me.
Without Cass living with me, I’d be home alone a lot more. It wouldn’t be because I hate people or I’m depressed or anything. I’m just not the go out to seek social interaction for its own sake kind of person. According to Cass, I’m the broody, artistic type. Also according to Cass, I’d probably forget to leave my house entirely without a shove out the door now and then.
She wasn’t really wrong.
I also knew it wasn’t great for me, to let myself get too isolated, at least for prolongued periods of time.
In that way, Cass was a great balancing mechanism.
So a little drama came with that? Seemed like a fair trade.
Anyway, I wasn’t going to let her end up on the street, even if she had terrible taste in men and got fired more often than anyone I knew. Back when she moved in with me, I would have done just about anything to keep her away from her crazy family… or from moving in with Jack, who I suspected had a lot bigger issues than Cass’s tendency to over-drink.
Since Cass was now staring at the guy with the black hair and the light blue eyes hard enough for both of us, I didn’t let myself look at him. I didn’t even look over when she did the shout-whisper thing in my ear.
Instead I stared at the far wall, like there was some other guy staring at me from that other part of the room.
Or like I wasn’t all that interested, maybe.
I tried to keep my face blank, too, but I doubt it was all that convincing.
It was easy to forget I wore full-on face paint, given my Space Girl costume––a character from an obscure comic book Cass and I fell in love with a few years earlier, and the reason I got more puzzled stares than recognition when people saw my get-up.
The silver metallic foundation, ringed, raccoon-dark eyes, gold contact lenses and black lipstick made me pretty difficult to recognize.
It also made the subtler expressions hard to pull off.
Given that I also wore a skin-tight, rubber shirt with a big, neon “S” on the front, a black micro-mini, fishnets and thigh-high vinyl boots, it was to the guy’s credit that he looked at my face at all… or that he wasn’t leering at Cass, really, given that she’d opted for some kind of weird clown-nurse-slut costume that had her looking both mildly frightening and full-on sex kitten all at once.
I knew her costume hailed from some B-horror flick Cass thought was funny.
As I hadn’t seen that particular gem yet, I had to admit, the get-up looked schizophrenic, even for her.
In addition to Cass’s normal, dyed, neon-green hair, she wore a crazy-short white nurse’s dress open almost to her navel in front. The latter showed off a lace white bra and most of her cleavage, which was about four sizes bigger than mine and usually got her attention even in regular clothing. To complement the white maybe, Cass also wore spiked, shiny-white, fuck-me shoes, a nurse’s hat, a stethoscope… and full-on clown make-up with a neon-pink frowny face over most of her cheeks and chin.
It was pretty terrifying.
Also, as per usual with the two of us, Cass’s get-up pretty much guaranteed that every guy in the room would blow past me with hardly a glance in favor of staring at my best friend.
And yeah, while I was used to that, tonight it stung a little.
Maybe because, for me, my own costume was definitely on the sexy scale.
Next to Cass’s, though––and, more to the point, Cass’s body––I knew I might as well have come dressed in garbage bags, or maybe as a farmer in ratty overalls and straw in my dark brown hair. Every guy within visual range paused to check Cass out––girlfriended or not, straight or gay, alone or in a group––and it wasn’t because of the dummy meat cleaver covered in fake blood that she gripped in her free hand.
This guy was staring at me for some reason, though.
And Cass was punishing me for it by making me look like an asshole in front of him.
Not on purpose, of course.
Well, my mind muttered cynically in the background. Probably not on purpose.
I decided to ignore that voice.
Truthfully, more than anything I wanted Jon to get here and save me from trying to wrestle drunk clown nurse hooker alone, in the event she decided to get either or both of us in trouble. I knew the Jack thing genuinely bothered her, which made her unpredictable at best.
But Jon just pinged me via my headset to let me know he’d be another hour.
Luckily, it was pretty danged loud in there.
The other costumes in the room were easier to identify than me and Cass’s, for the most part.
Dressing up as a seer was all the rage this year, just like it had been the year before, and the year before that. It seemed like every other person I saw wore funky contact lenses, a fake sight-restraint collar, leather clothes of one kind or another, or military gear, if they were going for some kind of historical version. I’d seen a few seer Nazis, and one guy with the big sword and sun sign on his chest, who I’m pretty sure was supposed to be Syrimne, the telekinetic seer who fought with the Germans in WWI.
Since a lot of seers worked downtown as sex workers––the ones not owned by corporations or rich dicks, that is––dressing up as a seer was one of those cool, “alternative” costumes that gave people an excuse to show some serious skin.
I thought it was pretty tacky.
As Jon liked to remind me constantly, it was also really damned racist.
I knew that pointing that out to most of these people would be like spitting into the wind, though, so I glanced around at all of the wild-colored contact lenses and Nazi costumes and just pretended I was as drunk as Cass.
Still, I’d love to see one of these bozos wear something like that anywhere near the real deal. Meaning, I’d love to see them trot out their “Syrimne” costume in front of an actual, real-life seer, like at one of the ritzier clubs down on Broadway.
Even as I thought it, I found myself rubbing the “H” tattoo on my arm.
A nervous tic, I suppose.
Now that more seers lived full time in the United States, we all had to wear race-cat tattoos as part of the Human Protection Act, in addition to our registration barcodes… at least once we turned eighteen. Before that, we had to wear implants, which was worse, since with an implant, the government more or less knew where you were at all times.
Implants didn’t just verify race-cat; they actively collected information on your movements and behavior, according to Jon.
Worse, your parents could access that information if they wanted.
So could the administrators of every single public school.
We all learned to jack and distort the signal even in grammar school, but still, yeah, I’d been grounded more times than I could count because I’d failed to jack my implant correctly back in high school.
My mom was pretty cool.
The school authorities were not.
So yeah, the dual tats weren’t awesome, but they were an improvement over being monitored 24/7 like you were under house arrest.
I’d had nightmares where someone had burned both tats off me and threw me in a cage with a bunch of human-hating seers.
My mom said it was because I was a worrier.
I wished that was the only reason, but I had my doubts.
I hated the whole seer thing, though… I really did.
I don’t mean seers themselves.
I mean, I didn’t know any actual seers. Very few humans did, unless they worked for the military, for the World Court, or were uber-rich.
I hated the seer system, meaning the whole global system of laws, checkpoints, blood-testing, tracking and racial controls, and how we were all supposed to pretend it was normal.
I didn’t care what anyone else said.
It wasn’t normal.
No matter how global or national governments spun it, or what they said in those public service ads on television, or how many fake stats they threw at us about the lives it saved… it wasn’t fucking normal. It was screwed up and it was wrong, and it was pretty much slavery for actual seers, and a fear-mongering, authoritarian, Big Brother thing for the rest of us.
Jon 100% agreed with me on that, by the way.
He also agreed with me that the government was full of shit when they droned on about how “safe” it was, integrating seers into human society.
Cass agreed with me and Jon, too, but I honestly got the sense she more didn’t care all that much. Cass thought seers were sexy. The slavery aspect of that maybe struck her as sexy, too, although I hadn’t wanted to ask her that outright.
I did know there was an all-seer band out of Seattle, End Times, owned by one record label or another, that Cass had been obsessing over for like five years.
In particular, Cass crushed on their lead singer, Davri, an Asian-looking seer with light purple eyes splattered with bright gold flecks. She wasn’t alone in her crush; a lot of girls I knew lusted after that guy, even though I read on some feed fan site that he was something like two hundred years old, which, to be fair, is supposedly like thirty in human years.
They had up-close images recs of his eyes, though, on that same station.
And yeah, he was pretty damned beautiful.
He also had a body to die for, whatever age he might be.
Because he was seer, they could show his real face and body on the feeds, meaning without distorting his appearance or voice via avatar. Since seers didn’t fall under the image ban protocols of the Human Protection Act, they showed a lot of their real faces and bodies on the feed stations, unless there was some security reason not to.
Cass wanted me to go with her to the next End Times show at The Fillmore in two weeks, so she could see Davri up close.
I knew the place would be mobbed, but I was curious enough to tell her I’d go. Since The Fillmore was a pretty small venue, we could probably get right up next to the stage, depending on what they had in the way of security.
And yeah, Davri was definitely hot.
Even so, it struck me as pretty weird to want some guy owned by a corporation.
I mean, he wasn’t even human.
I took a longer drink of beer and glanced around the room, that time trying to get a sense of the crowd as a whole. A lot of college students and recent grads were there, like me, but I also saw a fair few people in their late twenties and early thirties.
More Jon’s crowd, in a lot of ways.
A lot of them looked straight, though.
The first band cranked up the sound from a makeshift stage about a dozen yards from where we stood, sliding into the chorus of a song that sounded familiar, one I recognized from the local college station. I glanced over to see the lead singer sing-shouting through the mike, his face bright red as he energetically strummed his dual-necked guitar.
They played a metal-rockabilly-punk-new-wave-industrial type of thing, one of those mish-mashes of mostly older styles that somehow managed to be a staple of San Francisco’s underground music scene.
While I’m generally open to that kind of thing––or used to it, at least––these guys were seriously giving me a headache.
Maybe I needed to do like Cass and drink faster.
“What do you think?” Cass said, beaming at me. “Pretty cute, right?”
Before I could stop myself, I glanced over at the guy she’d been trying to get me to look at for the past five minutes.
I gave him a quick, hopefully casual-seeming glance––and yes, caught him staring at me again. When he saw me returning his look, he met my gaze, a smile lifting the edges of his lips.
Before I could look away, he raised his beer in a mock-toast.
I returned his smile, unthinking.
As I did, I had a sudden flash of how creepy that grin must look on my silver face.
“So?” Cass said. “What do you think?”
I’d already averted my gaze, so I glanced at her.
“I think you’re really loud,” I said, taking a sip of my own beer. My black lipstick left a dark stain around the lip of my beer bottle.
Cass laughed, somehow hearing me over the band.
A big guy wearing a leather jacket covered in spikes slammed into me just then, drifting out past the circle of the dance-mosh-whatever pit just in front of the stage. Cursing as I tried to surf my beer bottle to safety, I felt my face grow hot under the silver make up after I glanced up and caught the black-haired guy grinning in my direction.
“Okay,” I said to Cass as I shook out my wet, beer-covered hand. “He’s cute.”
“You need to go talk to him,” she announced, looking me up and down. “You look awesome in that dress, by the way. No wonder he’s gawking.”
“He’s not gawking,” I said. “He’s just… looking.”
“He’s confident,” Cass said. She looked at him again, her gaze shrewdly appraising. “Maybe even full-blown cocky. That could be a good thing,” she added, tilting her head to down a few swallows of beer.
Glancing back at me, she smiled, shrugging.
“…Or, you know, he could be an arrogant asshole prickface.”
I grunted a laugh, shaking my head.
“Awesome,” I said, loud over the band. “Thanks for that.”
Watching her look at the black-haired guy again, I rolled my eyes, irritated in spite of myself. “Why don’t you go for it, Cass? You clearly think he’s hot. Why not give Jack something real to worry about for a change?”
Turning, she gave me a faintly indignant look, hands on her hips.
“I have a boyfriend,” she said.
“Would serve him right,” I shouted back over the band. “Maybe you forgot… but you told me what he did the other night. With that girl at the bar. He’s an asshole, Cass. He’s not even hiding it anymore. He’s just reveling in his assholery.”
She waved me off, but I saw her mouth tighten.
“He didn’t mean anything by that,” she said.
“He never does,” I muttered.
I took another sip of beer to hide my frown when she looked over at me.
“Doesn’t make him any less of an asshole––” I added, louder.
“––Besides,” Cass cut in, smiling, clearly deciding to ignore my words. “This one’s not my type. I like blonds, remember?”
Her grin widened as she wrapped her cleaver-holding hand and arm around my shoulders. “If I was going to find someone to play with tonight besides Jack, it wouldn’t be a dark broody gothy type with pretty eyes. It would be a hot, hung, kung fu instructor who happens to be between boyfriends…”
I rolled my eyes at the reference to my adopted brother, Jon.
Cass had been crushing on Jon since we were kids.
She couldn’t seem to get it through her head that it was never going to happen.
For a lot of reasons.
“Jon’s gay, Cassie,” I said, sighing. “We’ve both known Jon was gay since we were twelve. Hate to break it to you, but he’s still gay.”
“Cass,” she corrected, frowning deeper. “Don’t call me Cassie. I hate that.”
I fought the impulse to roll my eyes again. “Sorry. Forgot.”
“It’s only been… what? Five years?” she grumbled. “I didn’t even go by Cassie for most of high school.”
Taking a sip of beer, I didn’t answer.
I glanced at Mr. Blue Eyes instead, who’d clearly been watching our back and forth. His eyes shone with overt curiosity, like he was trying to figure out what we were talking about, or maybe like something in the dynamics between us fascinated him.
Either way, he wasn’t bothering to hide his interest at all now.
I was about to drag Cass off to some other corner of the room, maybe just to get a breather from all the staring and silent back and forth… when Mr. Blue Eyes surprised me. Almost as if he knew I was about to leave, he started walking straight toward us, sidestepping a few other groups to reach where me and Cass stood.
I glanced behind me, maybe just to stop staring, but only saw the ugly, shit-brown couch we’d been standing next to for the last twenty or so minutes. Someone had pushed the couch against one wall, presumably to make room for more people. For me and Cass, it had been a reasonably safe spot compared to the chaos by the stage.
The guy with the black hair and the shockingly light blue eyes barely seemed to notice the other partygoers as he passed, no matter how scantily dressed they were. He didn’t seem to notice the people in the nearby dance pit, either.
He walked right up to me.
He moved confidently, like Cass said, almost like we knew each other.
The next thing I knew he was holding out a hand, giving me this killer, sexy smile under disheveled black hair. I admit, I felt that smile and the light of his blue eyes somewhere pretty far south of my brain.
Cass was right.
I did have a thing for dark-haired guys.
“Hey,” he said, right as I took his hand. “…I’m Jaden.”